Sunday, August 19, 2018

A sermon for a church preparing to close - "Watch Out, That You Do Not Lose What We Have Worked For" 2 John

2 John
The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:
Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from[a] Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
Truth and Love
I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we[b] have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; 11 for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.
Final Greetings
12 Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
13 The children of your elect sister send you their greetings.

        It occurred to me not long ago that I have never preached on 2 John.  It is such a short book, we just read the entire book.  

        To tell you the truth, I have read it several times and thought, “It just doesn’t have anything to say to me or to my two congregations.” 

        And yet, I am haunted by the passage from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

        With that passage from Timothy on my mind, I would go back to 2 John and think, this is God’s word, of course it has something to say – and I would read it – all of it - but I would come up empty.
  Then I read it again after last Sunday’s meeting in which the Administrative Commission informed us that they, acting with the authority of the Session, had voted to dissolve our congregation at the end of August.

        That is when this one verse jumped out at me. 

“Watch out, that you do not lose what we have worked for.”

That is the way the Scripture is.  It becomes the Word of God in the moment of reading and hearing, and it is eternal because at just the right time a passage, which never spoke to us before, suddenly becomes the word of God to us today.  Theologian Karl Barth reflected on this and considered how neither the preacher or the parishioner have any control over this.  The Lord is the one who makes the Word of God come alive and chooses when and where and in what circumstance the Word becomes alive.  (Church Dogmatics I 1 190-196)

 “Watch out, that we do not lose what we have worked for.”

What are we to say to this?

Perhaps it is easy for us to think “we have lost it all.”  We have only a few more Sundays left and then Orlando Presbyterian Church will be no more. 

Yes – we do leave a legacy.  The financial resources will go to our mission partners and to the work of developing new churches in our Presbytery. 

And yes, all of us will move to other congregations where we will be vital to the life of other congregations.

But there will be no more Orlando Presbyterian Church. 

However – is that what we were working for?

Was it to build a church in a community in which there are hundreds of churches?  And a healthy handful of strong Presbyterian congregations?  No, we worked to do God’s work, where we were at the moment.

That is what we were really here to do.  That is what our purpose was.

If you go to the Orlando Presbyterian Church’s web page, you will find our vision statement. 

  • We strive to TOUCH the world around us to meet human need.
  • We TELL the Good News of God’s redeeming love.
  • We TEACH others and ourselves to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
  • With God’s help we do all this to TRANSFORM lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.
No where did we state that the purpose of Orlando Presbyterian Church was to be a congregation that would continue for generations, with a building that would outshine any church facility in Orlando.

I admit, that was always underlying what we were hoping for, perhaps.  But our stated vision was to touch the world around us and to meet human need.

Look at Sadaf.  We are helping this man from Pakistan become a lawyer.  We may well be saving his family.  We are touching the world around us to meet human need.

As 2 John tells us, “Watch out, that you do not lose what we have worked for.”  You worked to change the lives of many, many people.  Wherever you go, keep working for that.

Our vision statement said we were going to tell the Good News of God’s redeeming love. 

At the moment of your creation as Orlando Presbyterian Church your actions were declaring that God’s redeeming love were paramount.  That is what you worked for.

“Watch out, that you do not lose what we have worked for.”

Our vision statement says we were going to teach others and ourselves.  Every moment you spent in Sunday School class.  Every moment you spent in listening to all of the pastors who have come to you to preach. Every moment you spent in the word you were teaching others and yourselves. 

Wherever you go, “Watch out, that you do not lose what we have worked for.”

        In this short letter that John wrote, there were two things in particular that he told his reader to “Watch out, that you do not lose what we have worked for.” 

        These two things were love, and truth. 

        John opens his letter with this:

The elder,
To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth— because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:

        That in itself is a real affirmation for us to hear, especially today. 

        The truth will be with us forever.

        Congregations come and go.

        Pastors come and go.

        People come and go.

        But the truth will be with us forever.

        Wherever we go, that truth goes with us.  The things we have learned and proclaimed, we will continue to believe wherever we go.

        John goes onto say, “And now, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”

        This is so consistent with the literature of John in the Bible.  Love was always a central theme to everything that bore his name.
        There is an ancient story.  The Apostle John was the last living Apostle, and was living out his last few days in the city of Ephesus.  All other Apostles had died violent deaths, but John, as you may know, did not suffer such a death. 

        Imagine having the Apostle John attending our worship here.  It is often intimidating having another preacher in the congregation, but I used to especially get nervous when one of my old Seminary professors showed up and I had to preach to these learned men and women. 

        Many years ago, I once preached with Billy Graham in attendance.  I am glad he came in casual dress, came in late, sat on the back row with his daughter, and that I had no idea he was there until well after the worship was over and his daughter let me know they had been there.

        But John?  It would be tough  for a preacher to have a sermon about a parable of Christ, while there on the front row is John, who literally wrote the book, or Gospel.

        As one would imagine, as the story goes the preacher and the people would often beg for John to get up and preach, and once in a while he would agree.

        This man could have said, “Here is a parable Jesus taught, but I left it out of my Gospel, as did Matthew, Mark and John.”

        Or he could have said, “Once when Jesus and I were alone, he told me this great truth I would now like to share.”

        Nope, none of that.

        John would, in his old age, preach one sermon and one sermon only, and this is the sermon in its entirety:

        “Little children, love one another.”

        The end.

        Essentially, what else is there?  All else is commentary.

        The time we spent here at Orlando Presbyterian Church has prepared us for the next step along our journeys.  The good we did will endure.  The lives that were changed, will have an impact for longer than most of us have left on this earth.

        And when September comes and we find ourselves in other congregations, keep in mind these words from this seldom read and infrequently preached book of Second John:

“Watch out, that you do not lose what we have worked for.”